The Invisible & Forgotten Revolution – Bahrain still haunts the Persian Gulf Monarchies

SHAFAQNA – Five years into a revolution which ambitioned to transform and reform Bahrain kingdom island into a buoyant democracy, hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis live in fear – repressed in their faith, oppressed in their yearning for social justice and equality.

Lost in the middle of oil rich monarchies, pro-democracy activists’ voices have been lost in a sea of authoritarianism, bogged down by harsh crackdowns and so-called security measures against their claim to political self-governance. Still, rights defenders have refused to give up. Animated by a desire to see manifest popular will, a defiant few continue to defy a system which legitimacy is rooted in its political alliance with powerful House of Saud.

A geopolitical jewel sitting at the heart of the Persian Gulf, Bahrain represents too much of a prize for Saudi Arabia to ever consider losing its influence over; especially when its nemesis, Iran, appears to hold sway over the island’s political opposition. A reactionary theocracy, Saudi Arabia has long held Iran its religious and political arch enemy – the dragon to be smite for the kingdom to stand everlasting.

While many experts, and even state officials have perpetuated the view that it is faith, which sits at the core of Saudi Arabia and Iran upset, it is in fact clashing geopolitical ambitions which have fed the fire of enmity in between those two regional giants.

Failing to frame Bahrain unrest within a hegemonic perspective very much equates to missing the point altogether.

“Bahrain today stands very much a pawn stuck in a dangerous game of thrones,” said Samuel Pascali, an independent researcher with Veritas-Consulting. He added: “The real danger which Bahrain faces today is actually revolutionary misrepresentation … most media have toed the editorial line Riyadh presented, thus allowing for Bahrainis’ voices to be dismissed, and their message perceived as violent and sectarian. Bahrain’s entire revolution has been misconstrued. Bahrain uprising was not about the takeover of Bahrain Shia majority against the ruling Sunni majority, BUT democratic empowerment for all.”

Those voices which are being silenced

While Manama has often argued matters of national security when cracking down on those activists, the international community has had to face to the often deplorable human rights violations: acts of torture, unlawful imprisonment and stripping of nationality.

In its World Report 2015 Human Rights Watch wrote: “Bahrain’s courts convicted and imprisoned peaceful dissenters and failed to hold officials accountable for torture and other serious rights violations. The high rate of successful prosecutions on vague terrorism charges, imposition of long prison sentences, and failure to address the security forces’ use of lethal and apparently disproportionate force all reflected the weakness of the justice system and its lack of independence.

Human rights activists and members of the political opposition continued to face arrest and prosecution, and the government invested itself with further powers to arbitrarily strip critics of their citizenship and the rights that attach to it.”


This March, another such violation was committed against prominent rights defender, Zainab al-Khawaja, daughter to prominent opposition member, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is currently serving a life sentence for “insulting the king.”

A report by the Guardian read; “Police in Bahrain have detained prominent political activist, Zainab al-Khawaja and her one-year-old son on the fifth anniversary of a violent crackdown against protesters in which Saudi and Emirati soldiers were used. The detention of Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of a prominent activist serving a life sentence over the 2011 demonstrations.”

The report further read: “The developments show the concerns of Bahrain’s Sunni rulers over the continuing low-level unrest still gripping the Shia-majority country. Last week, the Arab League declared Hezbollah a terrorist organisation amid a widening dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

While such a statement exemplifies those political realities corporate media have been keen to project they do not offer a reflection of the truth – but rather expose the very narrative Gulf monarchies have worked to weave to better justify, and rationalize their campaign against pro-democracy protesters and rights activists.

A symbol of resistance in Bahrain the al-Khawaja family has suffered more than most, the scapegoats of a system which is determined to crush all, and any calls for reforms in the name of geopolitical hegemony. “Sectarianism in Bahrain, like in many other countries in the Persian Gulf has been used as a weapon of mass-destabilization and self-segregation,” warned analyst Pascali in exclusive comments.

He added, “The infamous Sunni-Shia divide Persian Gulf monarchies have claimed continue to plague the region, has been used to de-legitimize people’s calls for reforms, and yearning for democratic institutions.”

Unilateral sectarianism

If sectarianism has been rife in Bahrain, its language has emanated from the palace of al-Khalifa, and not the streets of Bahrain. Bahrainis are not calling for the rise of a Shia state, but that of a democratic one, where all people are offered the same rights and obligations under the law.

Al-Khalifa regime has worked tirelessly to silence Shia Muslims in Bahrain as they happen to be on the very end of the regime’s sectarian wrath. Victimized and ostracized on account of their faith, Bahrain’s Shia majority has lived in repression and oppression for decades.

As Shia Muslims and vocal critic of the regime al-Khawaja family has been persecuted for its stance for several decades.

Officers carrying video cameras raided the home of Khawaja’s in-laws before coming to her apartment in the capital, Manama, taking her and her son Abdulhadi to a local police station, according to her sister and fellow activist, Maryam, who lives in exile in Denmark. Their mother, Khadija al-Musawi, corroborated her account, as did Khawaja’s husband.

Bahraini officials did not immediately comment on the detention. But it comes as Khawaja faces three years in prison on a number of charges, including several involving her tearing up pictures of Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Her sister later said officers had a warrant and that Khawaja would likely be taken to prison to begin serving her sentence.

By Catherine Shakdam for Shafaqna


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